The Battle of the Blends is now well under way. The casks have been acquired, even named and now seasoned, not just once but twice. Totally different approaches are being taken by the two contestants. The rules are very simple; create a blend that will be judged by our readers, contributing editors and from within the industry. The final blend has to be complete by 1 September 2015 and the result will be announced in our final issue of the year which publishes on 4 December.
Dave 'The Rummager' Broom
I left her sitting quietly in the corner for a month letting the components slowly meld. This gave me time to think what was going to come next. A little nose and taste showed the colour had deepened while the nose was showing vanilla, dried banana and peach, with that Bounty bar aroma still firmly in place.
There was still some oak poking through when neat, but also more lift and acidity on the palate, conceivably that Aultmore doing its work. The finish though remained a little short with the wood making its presence felt. It was pretty, maybe too pretty. Rosalita needed to get some heft and grunt. It was time for her to get her knees dirty.
At the same time I didn't want to get that with a whisky which had heavy oak - that would be counterproductive. Neither did I want to lose the fresh acidity. Whatever was going to be added had to give a bass line but not dominate, have richness but also lift. There was only one which would fit the bill - Springbank.
The thing about Springbank is that it manages to combine so many styles in one glass - briny but estery, citric and smoky, oily and succulent. The 12 Years Old which was used also has a touch of dried fruit.
I was going to leave it at that, but then wondered why the Campbeltown contribution should be limited to one dram - after all the Springbank distillery makes three styles. Longrow, though magnificent, would be too smoky for the blend I was wanting to make. Maybe triple-distilled Hazelburn? Or… What about the distillery next door? To Glengyle I went.
In 2000, however, Mr Hedley Wright, chairman of Springbank's owner J&A Mitchell, bought the buildings. Frank McHardy then set about installing new equipment. On 7 March 2004 new make once again ran into the spirit safe. A selection of Kilkerran Works in Progress [WIP] have subsequently been released. (the brand name Glengyle is owned by another firm).
I went for the WIP6 matured in ex-Bourbon casks. This would give lift - think apples and meadow hay, some juicy fruits and spice with only gentle oak. Between the two whiskies, my theory went, the blend would have more weight, better length but retain that energy. In they both went. The immediate result was richness, more smoke and a desired autumnal/wet earth note. It is still my own WIP however. Time will tell.
How Dave's blend is developing
Kilkerran Work in Progress 6 matured in ex-bourbon casks
Springbank 12 Years Old
Aultmore 12 Years Old
Caol Ila 12 Years Old
Greenore 8 Years Old
Cameronbridge No Age Statement
Girvan Apps No4
Teaninich 10 Years Old
Clynelish 14 Years Old
Neil 'Copper Dog' Ridley
"And out of the shadows comes lightness," said someone important a long time ago - at least I seem to remember it this way. At any rate, this seems quite timely a phrase as this month the weather has begun to warm up significantly with at least a full two weeks of blazing sunshine here at Ridley household. With this, came two interesting turn of events for Orville. Firstly, the pre-summer weather meant that my 'maturation' cellar felt significantly warmer than at any time during the blending process so far and this made me think about how much the cask would potentially change the dynamic of the whisky inside.
Thankfully, so far, everything appears to be on track and the blend is exhibiting a tasty plump butteriness, with a softer orchard fruit note edging into a spicy sherry note, which, it must be said, wasn't that noticeable before.
So in keeping with the change in seasons, I thought it rather timely to move away from the big heavyweight style whiskies (at least for this month anyway) and focus on a much misunderstood region of Scotland: The Lowlands.
Historically it has produced a much lighter style of spirit, which perhaps hasn't measured up to the more heavyweight malts produced further into the Highlands and Speyside. As a result, we are only left with a handful of distilleries producing spirit today: Auchentoshan near Glasgow, Glenkinchie, a stone's throw from Edinburgh and contrasting newcomers Daftmill (established in 2003). Annandale (who filled its first cask in November 2014) and Ailsa Bay, the contemporary sister distillery to the Girvan grain facility over on the very west coast, near the town of Girvan.
This gives a limited number of choices for Orville. Should I explore a few whiskies from those already fallen by the wayside (such as Rosebank and, much more recently, Bladnoch) or keep it simple and choose from the existing producers?
The answer was actually simpler than this. Looking at the flavour profile the blend was taking, I opted to take a more universal approach, focusing on the specific needs of the blend. Go too light and the whisky would potentially be lost in the emerging complexity; go too bold and it would alter the dynamic again, throwing the blend off at a different tangent. Besides, a quality Rosebank would set me back a lot of money and fall outside the £50 price cap on the chosen whiskies.
So my chosen options are from both Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie.
Auchentoshan's Three Wood is a single malt so well-rounded that its presence will hopefully reinforce the rich profile I am hoping to capture. Fresh, sweet zesty notes sit alongside a spicier, drier sherry note and complex chocolate flavours - all driven by the specific cask types used in its construction: Bourbon, ex-Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. Alongside this, Glenkinchie 12 Years Old has a supremely light, grassy note, giving a citrus burst to the top notes of the blend and a malty cereal note somewhere in the middle.
I'm going to monitor the amount I use here carefully, especially if their presence begins to feel undermined over the coming months. But for now… Let there be light!
How Dave's blend is developing
Glenkinchie 12 Years Old
Auchentoshan Three Wood
Nikka Coffey Grain No Age Statement
Dailuaine 16 Years Old
Aberlour 12 Years Old
Clynelish 14 Years Old
The Competition Rules
1. The first fill will be a Highland malt, Clynelish, of equal measure (1 litre).
2. All the regions of Scotland need to be incorporated: Islands (which includes Islay), Speyside, Highlands (already accounted for), Lowlands and Campbeltown. There is no order as to when these are used, but in each issue, the details of the whisky must be revealed but not the quantity.
3. No bottle of whisky used must cost more than £50 RRP except for the wildcard detailed below and must be commercially available in UK.
4. There must be at least one grain whisky but there are no rules as to its origin.
5. A wildcard must be chosen - this can be anything, from anywhere. The only rule here, is that it cannot be over £150 RRP. Also it must be commercially available in UK.
6. The blend must be under 50% ABV when finally bottled.
7. A minimum of 15 litres of blend must be prepared.
8. There are no rules as to how much of each individual whisky category that you can add.
9. The blend must be complete by 1 September 2015 when it will be sent out for tasting and the winner will be published in Whisky Magazine issue 132, which publishes on 4 December 2015.